Living with the History

The Heritage Sites in Ireland

While travelling through Ireland it seems an obligation to get to know the rich and differing history of the country. The influences, which have shaped the countenance of today’s Ireland, are quite diverse. To experience and to understand them , it is worth to see some of the many heritage centres, which are spread all over the country and which can be found even in the most remote places. They range from small country cottages which are preserved and looked after by volunteers, to big centres, which are run almost like enterprises and which host thousands of tourists per day. There is a possibility to visit all heritage sites with just one ticket.
Duchas The Heritage Service runs most of the historical sites.

Famine in memory

The Great Hunger, that affected the country in 1845-1850, and which in large parts was due to an inadequate liberal policy by the British Government, have played an important role in Irish history. Since that time, millions of Irish people have emigrated from Ireland and have mainly bound for the USA, Canada and Australia. Both the Great Hunger and the emigrants are paid tributes by many historical sites, monuments, and replica. A good example is the Dunbrody, a ship that carried thousands of Famine emigrants to New York in the 19th century and which has been rebuild and now hosts a museum. The visitor can see actors playing the life on board and can ask questions directly as to recognise the difficulties of the people who emigrated then.
The Great Famine Commemoration Exhibition in Skibbereen has a similar approach. Beside important historical facts of the time there are video sequences shown, in which actors read personal letters and accounts of that time, laying bare the details of the catastrophe of the famine. The aim is to show the individual tragedies of people who were affected.
The Doagh Visitor Centre in Inishoven, County Donegal, is another good example which connects the Irish distresses of the 19th century with today’s suffering in the world. In the leaflet for the visitors it is said: ”Ireland today is among the richest nations of the world. Today famine is rife in Sudan, Biafra, and Ethiopia. Television screens bring their problems to our attention, but do we bother to do anything about it? These places are our Irelands – we are the landlords.” That is a good example of how we are able to view catastrophes of the past and see if we have learned something from them. The Doagh Centre with its vivid and real replicas has left a strong impression on us.

History in buildings

The Blennerville Windmill Visitor Centre is an excellent example of how a local initiative can pursue a positive development of a small and remote village. The windmill, which in the 18th and 19th century was the economical centre of the region around Blennerville, was rebuild between 1984-1989 by local trainees and craftsmen, and financed by FAS (the Irish employment exchange) as well as the European Union. The windmill is now the largest working windmill in Ireland and Great Britain. The visitors can not only see the process of how grain is grinded by a millstone, butt additionally can feel the power of a windmill at work – if the wind wants to cooperate. The staff, including the only miller on a working mill in Ireland and his once successor, are giving detailed, engaged, and even funny information about a project that has developed quite well. Once you plan to marry, do not hesitate to go to Blennerville, you might expect a (red) surprise!
Beside the windmill, today the centre hosts expositions concerning the Jeanie Johnston, a so-called ‘coffin ship’ which transported thousands of emigrants during the Famine. Additionally, the centre was the impetus for a historical steam-railway that was build between Tralee (the capital of county Kerry) and Blennerville. Hence, today Blennerville not only attracts tourists aiming to explore the regions past, but also unveils important aspects of the history that the people can identify with.

When you want to see a city similar to Marburg, you have to go to Galway on the west coast. The atmosphere in the city centre is one you feel in the Oberstadt in Marburg, with plenty of students filling the streets and the pubs and cafes. The university campus is a connection between tradition and modernity. Unfortunately, there are no exchange programs between Marburg and Galway, but there are some with the universities of Cork and Limerick …

Nature at its best

The J.F. Kennedy Arboretum is a fantastic place, comprising of five thousand different plants, which come from all over the world. We really thought, that we can take an example from these plants for our lives on earth. They are of magnificent beauty and it is peaceful there.
The Burren is a region in Kerry (the West of Ireland) that comprises mainly of stone. Everything here seems to be of stone, and the monuments of the region, known as “Cahers”, remind the visitor of the Stone Henge in England and are quite impressive.
The place that was most mysterious to us despite its apparent simplicity were the Hills of Tara. They were the seat of the High Kings of Ireland centuries B.C. and in the early centuries A.D. You feel a certain kind of energy that comes from this place, and knowing that it was a religious site before the christianisation of Ireland, it even makes you feel more conscious and thoughtful. A statue of St. Patrick, the patron of the Irish, commemorates his legendary visit to Tara, the then court of Irish King Laoire, before Patrick began his mission to bring Christianity to Ireland.

The Past in the Future

We have chosen just a few places to emphasise the concept of the heritage centres of the country. The aim appears to be making the visitors aware of the strong correlation between the main events in Irish history. There is much more to see than the places introduced, but just as each journey is an individual trip, the visiting and exploration of different places depend on individual interests and purposes.
However, curious visitors are able to detect the roots of a country that has had a very distressful and tragic, but also an inspiring and hopeful history. You can feel the many faces of this changing country almost everywhere. The way in which the historical and cultural developments and achievements are presented, makes you think of the importance to learn from the past – in order to shape the future.


Jan Opielka / Katarzyna Barcik

For more information, contact the authors or see www.heritageireland.ie


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